Andrew Cuomo is a strategic genius

I have long written that Andrew Cuomo is a strategic genius. He has great knowledge of New York politics and his instincts were honed at his father’s side. Andrew was his father’s enforcer, the guy who took no prisoners and who you didn’t want to mess around with. Now as governor, he himself is surrounded by tough guys who other politicians and players are loath to play with. The toughest of these people is one Larry Schwartz, the governor’s secretary, or top dog. This is the guy the inside players really don’t like. The governor knows, as his father did before him, that when you are negotiating with other politicians, nothing motivates them more than their own continuance in office and the perquisites therein. When Cuomo wants something, he says the magic words and trades the legislators for things like the ability to make money unencumbered on the outside through their law and consulting firms. They really have no choice but to give him what he wants.

When the most recent legislative session came to an end, the governor’s stated objective of a public campaign system was nowhere to be seen. Many of the state’s good government people had hoped for a system like the one in New York City that would give the outside players a real chance. Needless to say, it never saw the light of day. I never thought that the New York system would be implemented statewide. The governor and the legislative leaders tried a cynical ploy to have a one-term try out, but only for the state comptroller’s race and we all knew that the governor kept picking on the nicest guy in New York politics, Tom DiNapoli. Why he did that is anyone’s guess but DiNapoli said, “No thanks” to the silly law that was proposed only for his race. Why would politicians, who got where they are under the old rules, adopt new rules that would allow “outsiders” a chance to get into the political system? The last thing the big boys wanted was Bernie the bartender getting into the game and destroying their insiders’ advantage in which money got to them via all the lobbyists and players who wanted access to the decisions.

So the smoke cleared at the end of the legislative session and the two things the governor used to get his way were the threat of enhanced ethics laws and campaign finance laws. We all remember that the governor appointed a Moreland Act Commission to investigate the players, including the Legislature. The legislative players howled like stuck pigs (yes, I said pigs) and inexplicably, the governor folded his so-called independent commission and told it to go away. This was too much for the fighting U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara who collected all the work of the now defunct commission.

In the end, the political interests of the players came first. The one thing that grabbed the headlines was medical marijuana. Adopted by other states, it looked like an idea whose time had finally come. The principal player on the Legislative side was Senator Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) a member of the Independent Democratic Conference, the gang of five who keep the Senate Republicans in power even though there are more Democrats than Republicans in the Legislature. Beset with a revolution of Democrats to his left, the governor says that he will bring the Senate back to the Democrats but there are those who suspect that he owes something to the gang of five. So, while the governor has his reasons for not wanting medical marijuana, he gave in, but with the strictest of provisions including his right to close down the program whenever he wants to. Savino got her bill and predictably lavished praise on the governor who had severely gutted it.

Advantage Cuomo. I tell you, the guy is a strategic genius.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 6/23/2014

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